The Spirit of Abimelech
Robert Wurtz II
If it happens that the king’s wrath rises, and he says to you: “Why did you approach so near to the city when you fought? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who struck Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Was it not a woman who cast a piece of a millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you go near the wall?”—then you shall say, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.”(2 Samuel 11:20–21 NKJV)
Our passage reveals that Abimelech’s greatest fear did come upon him, albeit post-mortem. He feared being remembered as the man killed by a woman who threw a rock and hit him in the head. So great was the fear that he commanded his armor-bearer to thrust him to kill him before he succumbed to the injuries from the woman’s stone (Judges 9:53-54). His plan failed. Some one hundred years later, when lectures were given on the dangers of armies being close to fortified walls, Abimelech was the preferred illustration.
I suppose it was only fitting that Abimelech would die such an embarrassing death. After all, he had murdered seventy of his brothers (some count sixty-nine) to rid himself of the threat of them challenging him for the “throne.” First, he went to his Canaanite uncles and convinced them to use their influence in the city to make him king. Then he used the money from offerings to Baal (seventy silver coins) to hire a rogue group of assassins to kill his brothers in the family home. It is doubtful that the brothers wanted to rule the people anyhow. Unlike Abimelech, the brothers wanted God to rule as king and not a man.
Matthew Henry once said, “The power of ambition turns men into beasts. It breaks through all the ties of natural affection (familial love) and natural conscience. It sacrifices what is most sacred, dear, and valuable to its designs.”
Abimelech never understood the fact that it is better to be useful than to be great. His thirst for power was insatiable. So proud and arrogant was this man that he preferred the people dead and the city destroyed if they rejected him as king. His attitude was plain and simple, “If I can’t rule over you, I will annihilate you!”
Though they had put him in power, Abimelech’s uncles and the people they influenced soon turned on him. God sent an evil spirit to cause strife between them. Apparently, they realized they had made a grave mistake soon after he was in power. But, unfortunately, it was too late. What was done was done. Abimelech used his charm to override their discernment (if they had any) and blind their eyes to his true aims. Little did his uncles know that they were dealing with a psychopath.
After a while, the people revolted. In other words, they took matters into their own hands. It was a big mistake. Abimelech chased them through the city and up into a tower, where he set fire to it, burning a thousand men and women to death. Those who did not die in the fire died from smoke inhalation. He plowed the city under and salted it! His message was, in effect, “don’t defy Abimelech!” He would rather see the people dead and the city destroyed than have someone else ruling over them.
Just as “that woman Jezebel” made an appearance in the book of Revelation as a figure of a spirit that was influencing the local church, there is a “spirit” or “attitude” of Abimelech that operates in our times. I have found it in the workplace, and I have found it in the churches. Men (or women), intoxicated with ambition, destroy anyone or anything to achieve their aims.
Understandably, Abimelech’s uncles and the men of Shechem didn’t discern his plans or true temperament because they were Canaanites. However, these things only took a few years to come out. Again, it was too late. They tried to take matters into their own hands, but when you have missed God, God has to fix the problem. When I say they “missed God,” I mean they didn’t do God’s will. So they died for their error. Sometimes we miss God, too, and the temptation is to try to fix what we have messed up. It will never happen. God has to correct the problem.
A Bad Example
Abimelech’s story is one of extreme evil. He represents precisely how not to behave as a leader. If his uncles’ had been reading and studying the word of God, they could have measured the man against the word and seen his error. They did not. They followed the man like the proverbial sheep to the slaughter. His charm overrode any concerns that they might have had.
Jotham, Abimelech’s only living brother, became the voice of God to all of them. He declared how God had given victory through Gideon, and yet Gideon’s sons were all massacred. The people behaved irrationally following Abimelech. But this is how people can be when a man like Abimelech deludes them.
The Death of Abimelech
And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire. And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and all to brake his skull. Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. (Judges 9:52–54 KJV)
The story of Abimelech was one of many Old Testament stories written for our example and learning (1 Corinthians 10:11). It is a warning about the blindness and cruelty of ambition and power. With only seconds to repent and beg God for forgiveness, Abimelech was transfixed with his legacy. “How will people remember me?” Never mind your legacy; you are about to face God, sir!
Judges chapter 9 warns us to be careful who we set up as leaders. Don’t be drawn in and deceived by their charm and manipulation. Seek God earnestly in prayer.
And if you have placed an Abimelech into a leadership position and it can’t be undone — don’t take matters into your own hands. Let God deal with it. It may not happen as soon as we would like it to, but God will avenge leaders’ foolishness and proud acts. For Abimelech, God embarrassed him and his memory for all times. Three-thousand years later, we are still talking about a man who was killed by a woman who threw a rock and hit him in the head. That’s what ruthless ambition will get you. When men establish their own kingdom at the expense of the kingdom of God, bad things will happen. As Peter has reminded us, “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.” (2 Peter 2:9–10 NKJV)